The first time Nathan Seeley climbed aboard a bucking bull, he was hooked. And then he wanted to try the real thing.
Seeley's first bull was of the mechanical variety, one that he rode at the Delaware State Fair. At 16 years old, Seeley loved watching the bull riding at the Fair and decided he wanted to try it himself.
"I was spending probably $50 or $60 a week, just getting on it and riding it," Seeley (Camden, Del.) said of the mechanical bull. "What finally happened was, another bull rider, Randy Ridgely, puts on a bull riding school and he asked me to come to his school and try the real thing. I went to it when I was 18, got hooked then and have been riding ever since."
The now 22-year-old has proved he can ride the rough beasts, making it to the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo earlier this year after a strong finish at the Dodge First Frontier Circuit Finals Rodeo in January. Seeley hopes he continues to improve.
"I hope I can make it back next year," he said about the DNCFR. "I'll have a little different head on my shoulders. I went out there thinking the bulls were better than me, and I had first-time jitters. And then the National Finals Rodeo guys are there, and the best of the best are out there. I liked it. It was fun."
When Seeley first started riding, his family, with no rodeo history, wasn't too excited about it.
"They didn't care for it," he said. "Mostly everybody said I was nuts for getting on (bulls), but I said, 'No, it's fun.' Now this year, they've come around and I've got a lot of support and response. Everybody calls, checking on how I'm doing and everything."
As much as Seeley loves to ride bulls, he's never gotten on a bareback horse or a saddle bronc. He's not much for watching timed events either. His favorite event is clearly bull riding.
"I'm going to stay off the horses," he said. "I don't want to get on them. They're too much for me. They're way too much those horses are rough."
That might sound funny, coming from a bull rider, but he knows what he likes and what he's good at. Seeley said he's learned by trial and error, by asking advice and by trying to improve on his previous mistakes.
"I ask some of the experienced bull riders what they think I did wrong, and they'll tell me, and I work on it," Seeley said. "I spend a lot of time outside on my barrel, watching videotape of every bull I ride and watching what I do wrong and fixing it."
Although he loves what he does, Seeley said he's not a cowboy, just a bull rider. He has a "regular" week-day job as a heating and air conditioning technician, where he wears "regular clothes during the day," then changes into his rodeo gear when it's bull riding time.
"People call me a cowboy, and I tell them I'm not a cowboy," he said. "I don't live on a ranch. I don't wear cowboy hats 24-7. I'm a bull rider."